Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • Memories are microscopic. Tiny particles that swarm together and apart. Little people, Edison called them. Entities. He had a theory about where they came from and that theory was outer space.
  • Life equals structure plus activity.
  • Just after we married, the cough went away. So what was it, I wonder? Loneliness?
  • The Manicheans believed the world was filled with imprisoned light, fragments of a God who destroyed himself because he no longer wished to exist. This light could be found trapped inside man and animals and plants, and the Manichean mission was to try to release it. Because of this, they abstained from sex, viewing babies as fresh prisons of entrapped light.
  • What did you do today, you’d say when you got home from work, and I’d try my best to craft an anecdote for you out of nothing.
  • I walked up and down the hall, listening to him talk to you about the end of everything. The invention of the ship is also the invention of the shipwreck, he was saying.
  • In the past, we’d talked about books and other people, but now we talked only of our respective babies, hers sweet-faced and docile, mine at war with the world. We applied our muzzy intellects to a theory of light. That all are born radiating light but that this light diminished slowly (if one was lucky) or abruptly (if one was not). The most charismatic people—the poets, the mystics, the explorers—were that way because they had somehow managed to keep a bit of this light that was meant to have dimmed. But the shocking thing, the unbearable thing it seemed, was that the natural order was for this light to vanish. It hung on sometimes through the twenties, a glint here or there in the thirties, and then almost always the eyes went dark.
  • None of this is banal, if only you would attend to it.
  • A thought experiment courtesy of the Stoics. If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.
  • What Kant said: What causes laughter is the sudden transformation of a tense expectation into nothing.
  • I will leave you, my love. Already I am going. Already I watch you speaking as if from a great height. Already the feel of your hand on my hand, of your lips on my lips, is only curious. It is decided then.
  • But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.

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